Home Education Magazine
March-April 1997 - Articles
From Tapes to Reading - Janet Keip
Learning to read was not an easy journey for Jaime. We began with such great expectations and hopes. As a life-long avid reader, I assumed Jaime would acquire the skills and burning desire to bury her nose in a book as naturally as she learned to talk and walk.
Our reading adventure began when she was in utero; I often read aloud to her. It was my way of connecting with that tiny person forming so quickly inside of me. When she was born, I would spend long blissful days (and often not-so-blissful nights), alternately gazing at her and at my book. Frequently, I would read aloud to her when she was fussy, the rhythmic sounds of my voice lulling her into peaceful slumber. She wasn't particular about what we were reading, either. The sound of my voice and the security of my arms was all she really wanted.
Jaime became aware of books at about eight months, first as a teething object, then as an interesting crackling noise as she busily shredded them. She grew fond of board books, especially Baby Ben Gets Dressed and Bedtime Toys. As the months progressed, she became less interested in the texture of books and more interested in the pictures. Stabbing a chubby finger at each page, she would demand, "Whas is?"
My descriptions gradually became the author's words and she would happily sit for several picture books worth of stories. At three, Jaime developed a passion for But No Elephants by Jerry Smath, insisting on hearing it several times a day. Eight years later, I can still recite the entire book, word for word !
Jaime has grown up in a house filled with books, magazines and periodicals. First time visitors invariably comment on our overflowing bookshelves. As role models, we epitomize reading: reading for pleasure, for information and for employment.
When she didn't begin reading at age four or five, I was mildly disappointed, having half-expected that she would be an early reader. After all, I began my reading adventure at age five. When she didn't show great enthusiasm (or even mild interest, for that matter!) during our first learn-to-read programs at age six, I was a little more disappointed. Parental force only melted both of us into muddy puddles of tears. After great deliberation, we left it for another year (you know, until she "matured").
At seven, with bribes, coercion, and a vast effort, I was able to browbeat her into learning some basic phonetic sounds and about 35 simple sight words. By now, frustration and worry had become my daily companions. Jaime's cousin Travis taught himself to read over the summer before he started kindergarten. Her friends were reading whole level one and two books. Travis began reading newspapers. I began biting my nails again. Jaime blithely continued to play and live her life, contented and carefree .
Jaime still enjoyed our read aloud sessions and was now heavily into "chapter books". Our first was Charlotte's Web and after that success, we gulped down children's novels at the rate of two or three a week. Jaime also continued to enjoy picture books, among them, the Berenstein Bears series, the Bill Peet and William Steig books. She could listen for a lot longer than either her dad or I could read.
We turned to book tapes to augment our failing voices. At first they were the simple, one-tape-one-picture-book, turn-the-page-at-the-chime books but gradually we moved to longer and longer book tapes. Pinochio, The Little Red Hen and The Gingerbread Man gave way to Billy and Blaze, Stuart Little and Misty of Chincoteague. We quickly exhausted the book tape supply in the local library then the next town and finally began making trips to the city library, more than two hours away.
We gave book tapes at Christmas, birthdays, Easter and to celebrate the cat having kittens. Fortunately Jaime enjoyed the tenth listening of a book tape as much as she did first. As the book tapes she listened to became longer and more complex, the number of times she listened to each of them increased.
Classics like The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden and Watership Down became favorite friends. Wherever possible, we choose the unabridged version of a book tape. Our version of The Secret Garden is seven hours and fifty-three minutes while Watership Down is four hours and ten minutes.
Jaime was never far from her faithful companion, her portable cassette player. Over the past four years Ray (Jaime's dad) and I have been subjected to countless hours of "second-hand storytelling." Repetition is great for training memory and both Ray and I can recite whole chunks of several books!
Whenever we left the house, Jaime usually packed her Walkman©. With it, a few tapes and a spare set of batteries, she was ready to accompany us to the most boring meetings, on endless rounds of errands or on long, mind-numbing road trips when necessary. Because she suffers from motion sickness if she looked at books, drew or wrote while in a vehicle, her portable story-telling machine was the perfect travel companion.
We continued to read aloud every day, but Jaime spent much of her day bathed in spoken words. Creating with Lego© bricks, Brio© or Playmobiles©, making clay sculptures, painting, building beaded jewelry, or drawing, she was accompanied by a book tape. She would lug the portable player outdoors to the end of a very long extension cord, then bounce on the trampoline, play catch or build sand villages. Every day her vocabulary and understanding expanded, as evidenced by her conversation.
Periodically, motherly guilt would overcome me and I would force her, kicking and screaming, to do some "school work". I brought home workbooks, grammar programs, "how to get your homeschooler to be a reader/writer in ten easy lessons" books, and computer programs ad nauseam. Occasionally something would catch her eye but mostly she disdained it all. Her learning consisted of learning through play. We played board games, painted, made paper mache, planted seeds, observed birds and wild creatures, carpentered . . . As long as it was hands-on and there was no reading involved, Jaime was interested.
It was during this time she learned to ride her bicycle. She had resisted my best well-meaning advice, refusing to be bullied into learning to ride according to my timetable. Then, one evening, having promised to take her and her bike to the nearest large patch of pavement for some practice, I hurried to cook supper. Jaime came tumbling into the house burbling, "Come watch me, Mom."
I sighed and followed her out, then watched as she leaped on her bike and proceeded to ride about with perfect balance and cocky confidence! It was as if she had been riding for months, which she had - in her mind. If only she would learn to read as readily, I thought. Her friends were already reading beginning chapter books and Travis (the brainy cousin) had moved on to encyclopedias. At age eight, she begged to begin piano lessons. She learned to read music quickly: it seemed to appeal to her innate sense of mathematics. By the second month, we noticed she was straining to read, practically resting her nose on the music. Perhaps poor eyesight was keeping her from reading, I thought . The eye specialist said her regular vision was fine. Next I tried developmental vision testing. Fine again.
About this time, I heard about a program called Structure of the Intellect, a battery of tests of academic strengths and weaknesses with a remedial component. I was reaching a point of despair - the clock was ticking. The results, following the three hour test, revealed no surprises. Jaime was weak in reading and written work, strong in math, creativity and critical thinking. The remedial component of the program suggested, among other things, having Jaime listen to good quality book tapes!
Off and on I battled for control of Jaime's learning-to-read adventure. She struggled to learn in a way and at a time meaningful to her while I pushed for her to learn my way and at my speed. Mostly she continued to play. She was now "writing" and directing plays and musicals with her friends. Or building elaborate mazes for the guinea pig. Or creating forts and play houses and the fantasies to go with them. Book tapes accompanied her.
We discovered an audio magazine for children, Boomerang. Jaime fell in love with it! She listened to adult book tapes such as The Education of Little Tree and Greek Mythology.
Shortly after she turned ten, we noticed that suddenly she could read almost anything, albeit grudgingly. Within three months, she seemed to be reading as well (or better) than her early reading friends. We rejoiced and celebrated, even having a small ceremony to commemorate the occasion. I alone retained some concern. It was one thing to be able to read well but quite another to want to read.
Then, this June, it happened. Jaime discovered reading for pleasure. Now the refrain around our house is not "Turn down that tape!" but "Get your nose out of that book!"
Jaime's comment? "Some mothers are just never satisfied!"
Mine? - well, I should have learned from her learning to ride her bicycle incident - when it's time, it's time - not a minute before nor a minute later. © Janet Keip
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